Beyond Google Images Part 1
This series of posts is adapted from the ECA Library Information Seminar “Beyond Google Images”, which looks at issues and problems faced when sourcing images from the web and gives examples of a range of useful image resources available to College staff and students.
Part 1: Introduction considers the problems with online image searching. Later episodes show how different types of resources address these issues. Each episode looks at a different type of image-related resource and provides links to useful sites. Click on “Read More” below to continue…
Part 1: Introduction
The internet has become the largest repository of imagery that has ever existed, but it is also probably the most chaotic and disorganised. While new tools are constantly emerging to help us, image searching remains a complex and problematic activity, especially if we are searching for images by subject rather than by creator or title.
Why is image searching so complex and (sometimes) difficult?
- Images are very different from text, but most resources on the internet use a text interface. This means we need to translate our image need into words before searching, and we need image resources that accurately describe their contents in words.
- Images are both visual artefacts and sources of information. We may be searching for either or both aspects. For example, we might want an image that contains particular colours or shapes, is dark or bright, etc.; on the other hand, we may want an image that shows us particular things or people, or expresses a particular subject, concept or theme. Different resources tend to allow searching by different aspects. Very few allow both.
- The internet is a very fragmented image source. There is lots of good stuff out there, but we need to know where to look before we can even start to search for it. And where to look depends on what subject matter we want, how we want to search and what we want to do with the images we find.
- How we want to search depends on what we are looking for. We might have a specific person, place or thing in mind. We may have a clear mental picture of a generic image that must include features X, Y and Z to do the job we want it to do. We need it quickly for a project and we don’t want to waste time browsing through images to find it. Or, we have a vague topic in mind and would like to spend some time exploring it, looking at related images and concepts. Or we just want to dive into some imagery at random, looking for that spark of inspiration. We need tools for all these activities.
These points all relate to the key issue with image searching: findability. The right image is out there, if only we can find it! There are two other important issues that affect our ability to use images sourced online:
Quality. Many of the images we find on the internet simply aren’t good enough quality for our purposes. They may be poor resolution images that are useless for presentations or essays or, more subjectively, they may be mediocre images that don’t inspire us or effectively communicate what we want to get across.
Copyright. Even if we can find the right image, we need to know we can legally use it for the purpose we have in mind. We may want to manipulate it or reproduce it, but just because it appears on Google doesn’t mean this is allowed!
The following episodes will look at different online image sources and consider how they address the issues of findability, quality and copyright. The next episode will look at Google Images.